Ada Lovelace — The first programmer
In the beginning there was Ada Lovelace, as you might already know, but an advent calendar has to start somewhere. This one that seeks to highlight the pioneers of the computing couldn’t do anything but kick-off with her.
Lots has been said about her, how she designed the first algorithm to be carried out by a machine, making her the first programmer while she worked with Charles Babbage. At this point it’s safe to say that among programmers, she’s a household name.
So in this article I just want to show how deep was her insight when it came to the essence of programming, which is dealing with the internal state of a computer.
In recent years we have seen a rise of Functional Programming(FP) in the industry, where one of the main claims of FP is to help us deal with the state of a program, by introducing notions like immutability, so we can reason about a program’s correctness. This problem didn’t escape the insightful mind of Ada Lovelace. In her own words:
How multifarious and how mutually complicated are the considerations which the working of such an engine involve. There are frequently several distinct sets of effects going on simultaneously; all in a manner independent of each other, and yet to a greater or less degree exercising a mutual influence. To adjust each to every other, and indeed even to perceive and trace them out with perfect correctness and success, entails difficulties whose nature partakes to a certain extent of those involved in every question where conditions are very numerous and inter-complicated. [emphasis mine]
Isn’t it amazing that problems that still affects us today were foreshadowed by Ada Lovelace over a century ago?
Finally I think her words echo with all programmers that have ever had to deal with a bug:
I am in much dismay at having got into so amazing a quagmire & botheration.
So follow us in this journey during December as we see how other pioneers tackled the quagmire.
Advent Calendar — Help us make it a book!
From December 1st until December 24th we plan to release one article each day, highlighting the life of one of the many women that have made today’s computing industry as amazing as it is: From early compilers to computer games, from chip design to distributed systems, we will revisit the lives of these pioneers.
Each article will come with an amazing illustration by @SebastianNavasF.
If you want to see these series to become a book with expanded articles and even more illustrations by Sebastián, then subscribe to our newsletter below.
- Illustration: Sebastián Navas
- Gleick, James. The Information: A History, a Theory, a Flood (p. 119). HarperCollins Publishers. Kindle Edition.